ACSD nurses are answering the call
MIDDLEBURY — Being a school nurse carries huge responsibilities. Tending to cuts, bruises, headaches, hamstring pulls and upset stomachs are but a fraction of the job. There’s also following up on student medical records, ensuring everyone is up to date on vaccinations, and being a medical sounding board for school educators, staff, children and parents.
Well, you can multiply those responsibilities times two these days, with the COVID-19 pandemic.
And Kelly Landwehr — the lead nurse for the entire Addison Central School District — is in the thick of the new protocols, precautions and considerable angst that COVID-19 has created within the district community. The ACSD includes elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge, along with Middlebury Union Middle and High schools.
Landwehr is one of several ACSD health professionals and custodial/maintenance staff who are working full-throttle to minimize the chances students and adults become infected with a virus that has thus far struck almost 2,000 Vermonters, killing 58 of them.
At least in part as a result of their collective efforts, not one student had been flagged with the coronavirus on campus as of Oct. 15.
And it’s been no small chore.
Under Landwehr’s leadership as the district’s COVID-19 coordinator, students and adults are diligently scanned for possible high fever, sniffles, lethargy, coughing — any of the telltale signs of the virus.
Landwehr & co. are always on the lookout for facemasks — and particularly anyone who isn’t wearing one. They’re mandatory for everyone on campus, with only a few medically sanctioned exceptions.
“Students have been amazing,” Landwehr said of compliance. “We’ve had very few issues.”
Teachers, custodial workers and the older students wipe down all chairs, desks and other surfaces prior to leaving classrooms and other common spaces. It’s a monotonous but necessary ritual that takes place at least three times each academic day.
“We have the same amount of staff doing a lot more work,” Landwehr said. “They are certainly some of the unsung heroes. They’ve stepped up and have taken on so much to make this work.”
Anyone recording a temperature of 100.4 or higher is sent back home, as is anyone showing other possible coronavirus symptoms. Students feeling ill are told to stay home and attend classes remotely through a virtual learning platform the ACSD and other school systems statewide set up on the fly last spring when COVID-19 entered Vermont.
Those sent home with COVID warning signs must satisfy a litany of recovery standards before they may return to campus. Two or three students end up being sent home each day for suspected illnesses, she noted. And most students sent home end up getting tested for COVID-19.
“We’re incredibly conservative,” Landwehr said.
Since an emphasis has been placed on reducing the flow of people around school buildings, Landwehr has called for rudimentary medical supplies — such as Band-Aids, skin lotions and lip balm — to be kept in classrooms. So while nursing staff still wants to see students who get a knock on the head, a sprain or other injuries, spreading out the basics has helped keep the hallways clear.
“It’s also a good life lesson in self-care for the students,” she added.
So Landwehr and her colleagues are now able to focus on potential COVID cases, and they have created appropriate space to do just that. State guidelines require schools to have a designated room for potential COVID cases, a separate room for all other cases, and a triage spot.
“Our days are more full,” she said of herself and fellow school nurses. “COVID-19 has added a new dimension to the job of school nurse.”
Landwehr is concerned that COVID might be taking an unseen toll on a lot of people, including students. Conforming to new rules, fear of contracting the virus and the necessary restrictions on gatherings have added stress to everyone’s life.
“People came back with a huge amount of anxiety,” she said.
But Middlebury-area students have been resilient and are enjoying a return to in-school classes.
“It was really good to get back into school, to get students back in the building and just start implementing all of the (health safety) plans,” Landwehr said. “I feel so fortunate that everyone across the board — from the top down — has done an amazing job. That’s what’s allowed us to be here, and to continue to be here.”
John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.